31 January 12 Dietary Control of Blood Pressure – It's Not Just About Sodium

Controlling blood pressure can be accomplished by exercise, losing weight if overweight, diet, and/or medication. Although most messages we hear about dietary control of hypertension focus on salt or sodium reduction, it is only one of four important minerals that affect blood pressure control. Ideally, our eating plan will limit sodium but it will, just as importantly, contain a good supply of three minerals important in controlling blood pressure: magnesium, potassium, and calcium. This recommendation is based upon extensive research behind the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" or DASH Eating Plan.

DASH Eating Plan

You might recall seeing the DASH Eating Plan as U.S. News & World Report's winner of both the "Best Diets Overall" and "Best Diets for Healthy Eating" categories in their annual survey. This survey uses health experts to rank eating plans by various categories, including the two listed above as well as "Best Weight-Loss Diet," "Best Diabetes Diet," "Best Heart Healthy Diets," "Best Commercial Diet Plans," and "Easiest Diets to Follow." In all categories except for the one that was not applicable ("Best Commercial Diet Plan"), DASH placed in the top ten for all rankings.

So, what is the DASH Eating Plan? The food groups that get star billing are nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins. Foods high in added sugars are the most severely restricted of all. Following this plan results in a nutrient intake that is high in magnesium, calcium, potassium, and fiber, generous in protein, and very low in added sugars, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Food Sources of Magnesium and Potassium

The large number of servings of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes might seem like a lot, but to ensure an adequate intake of fiber, potassium, and magnesium, it is necessary. If you find that your MyNetDiary reports reveal a low intake of these minerals, check to see if there is missing data for those nutrients in the foods that you have logged. Food labels are required to list calcium, but not magnesium or potassium. I find that the USDA generic food items for basic unprocessed foods (e.g. nuts, seeds, legumes, veggies, dairy, and fruit) typically contain more nutrients than brand items. If you find that the brand you use has complete information but is not displayed, then you can edit the food item to include those nutrients if the item is "user contributed." If it is a system-entered item, then you can take a photo of the food label and request an update if you have the iPhone app. Or, you can simply copy and edit a system-entered food to include the full nutrient content.

You can check nutrient levels in your daily log, but here is a sample list of foods particularly high in potassium and magnesium (values from MyNetDiary).

Magnesium: 1 oz pumpkin seeds (173 mg), 1 oz sesame seeds (102 mg), 1/4 cup wheat bran (90 mg), 1 oz almonds (80 mg), 1/2 cup cooked Swiss chard or spinach (77 mg), 1 oz dark chocolate (65 mg), 1/2 cup cooked black beans (61 mg).

Potassium: medium baked white potato (940 mg), medium baked sweet potato (564 mg), 1 cup yogurt (470 mg), 1/2 cup cooked spinach (423 mg), medium banana (423 mg), 1/4 cup dried apricots (376 mg), 1 cup milk (376 mg).

Consider upgrading your subscription if you are unable to track magnesium or potassium (calcium is included in all subscriptions). You can customize your nutrient goals for those three nutrients using the DASH guidelines (magnesium 500 mg, potassium 4700 mg, and calcium 1250 mg).

Sodium: 2300 mg vs. 1500 mg

The researchers who developed the DASH Eating Plan found that an intake of 2300 mg sodium along with a diet rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium was effective at lowering blood pressure. This is very helpful information for those of us still struggling to lower our sodium intake. Once you reach an average intake of 2300 mg sodium, consider reducing your goal to 1500 mg if you belong to a higher risk group: have high blood pressure and/or are middle-aged (or older) or African American.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Meal Planning & Diets/Healthy Eating Nutrients/Calcium Nutrients/Salt/Sodium Other Health Issues/Cardiovascular Disease

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